2017 is the year I celebrate 20 years as a speech language pathologist! Yes, being an SLP is my second career–my early years were spent in advertising and public relations. My career path diverged and I’ve spent the past 20 years in a field that has been immensely rewarding, but certainly not without its frustrations. I often wonder what advice I would give to my younger self. As a CFY supervisor, I’ve tried to impart my professional “pearls of wisdom” to those just starting out as an SLP. Here’s four SLP Lessons I’ve learned on my journey — but realize that I too am just getting started!
SLP LESSON #1: There’s no one right way to do therapy.
My SLP career has taken me in many directions. From pediatrics, to long term care, to private practice, I’ve found there are many different ways to interact and work with clients. I’ve also found that every therapist has their own style, which might vary from setting to setting, and client to client. For example, some of my students learn best in an unstructured environment with lots of hands on activities, while others benefit from structured tasks that build upon skills. And sometimes I need to switch gears to avoid burnout.
Unfortunately this is an area where we can be very judgemental of ourselves, which can provoke unfair comparisons to other SLPs. Try to remember that your therapeutic relationships with your students and clients is unique. Do your best, don’t compare, and have fun!
SLP LESSON #2: Take things one small step at a time.
As determined as I was to succeed as an SLP, the early years I spent honing my skills were full of anxiety. I was raising three children, working full time and then had the crazy idea to return to school to pursue my PhD. I had my future mapped out, which of course backfired and caused me to feel frustrated. Rather then try to plot out your future, take your career one day at a time. Realize that you cannot do everything all at the same time–something will give, be it your health or an important relationship. Set realistic goals but give yourself the flexibility to change course if needed. Which brings me to point number three:
SLP LESSON #3: You can’t be all things to all people.
Too many of us feel we have to be superwomen (or supermen). I know that my client strength is not with the very young. I’m also not really great with articulation or fluency therapy. I know this is difficult for many school SLPs because students are assigned, but try to see if you can collaborate with your SLP colleagues. There are 3 SLPs on staff at my school, and we try to work students into our schedules based upon our therapeutic strengths. Of course our system is not perfect, but trying to work with students based on our therapeutic strengths benefits our students first and foremost.
This can also be said for those of us who have branched into private practice. When I began my practice 8 years ago, I found I was taking clients that I knew were a mismatch for my skills. My rationale was that the parents could not find another SLP (which was true) and the child really needed my help (also true). However, as years progressed, I found it was important for me to say “no” to potential new clients that I did not feel were a good professional fit. It benefited the client — an myself — to try to make a professional referral to another SLP or nearby university clinic.
SLP LESSON #4: Success lives in the small moments.
There are those sessions that we have prepped, planned and are ready to implement. But then the therapy fairy throws a curve ball and all our plans go down the toilet. Interestingly, some of these “curve ball” sessions have been my most rewarding. When a child leads you down their path and you see things through their eyes, something miraculous happens! We connect as humans and truly communicate. Those are the sessions that we are really speech language pathologists, when we drop our guard and meet our clients on their terms. These less grand sessions have always brought me the most joy. A child invites me into their world and we both learn. Let the small moments happen and enjoy being an SLP!
How long have you been an SLP? What lessons have you learned?